Berkshire Hathaway Official Reading List 2015: Approved Books by Buffett and Munger

tapdaceAmong the many booths at Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 Annual Meeting was one run by a local bookstore. Each year, BRK approves a list of books, many of which have been mentioned in shareholder letters or other speeches by Warren Buffett and/or Charlie Munger. I always see media articles referring to this list (ex. 11 Picks from Warren Buffett’s Bookshelf), but here is the entire official list from The Bookworm.

“I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.” – Warren Buffett

Besides the well-known Buffett biographies and classic investing books, it still manages to include several investing books I’d never heard of before, as well as some intriguing non-investing books by Buffett’s siblings and children. There is even a comic book and a separate section for kids. Here’s the Amazon-linkified list, sorted by category in alphabetical order.

About Warren Buffett

About Charlie Munger

On Investing

General Interest

Family and Children’s Interests

Big Picture Financial Advice from Jonathan Clements

clementsbookHere is some “big picture” financial advice from author and columnist Jonathan Clements. I’d like to collect enough of these tips from notable people and make a compilation post.

Clements recently wrote his last column “How to Live a Happier Financial Life” for the Wall Street Journal Sunday (which is ending publication), but he’ll still be writing for the main Wall Street Journal (on Saturdays). I’ll just paraphrase the bullet points below; read the full article for the details.

  • The biggest waste of time is commuting.
  • The best investment attribute to have is humility.
  • The biggest key to financial success is cheap housing.
  • The best way to spend money is to buy experiences.
  • Your top financial goal should be to have the ability to do fulfilling work, as opposed to working solely for a paycheck.

I guess he’s a sentimental guy because he also wrote a “last column” called “Parting Shot: What I Learned From Writing 1,008 Columns” in 2008 when he left the Wall Street Journal to join Citigroup (before coming back). Highlights below; read full article for details.

The question – What is the reason for all this saving and investing?

  • If you have money, you’ll worry less about it.
  • Money can give you the freedom to pursue your passions.
  • Money can buy you time with friends and family.

I checked and both articles weren’t behind a paywall at the time of writing, but that may change in the future.

Season’s Greetings!

fam2014a

Thank you very much for reading My Money Blog this year. It’s now been over 10 years… where has the time gone! I still look forward to learning and sharing something new every day. Here’s hoping that you are happy, healthy, and moving ever closer toward your goals.

Remember that you can follow updates via RSS feed, daily e-mail subscription, following me on Twitter, or liking my Facebook page.

TradeKing Black Friday $50 Promo

TradeKing has a $50 bonus promotion for Black Friday weekend. More details via banner below. Use promo code BF50. You must open with $3,000 and make 3 trades. Offer expires on December 1st, 2014 at midnight.

New Site Design

Just a quick note that I finally updated this site’s design after many, many years. The primary goal of this redesign was to improve usability and readability across modern computer screens, which now span from 30″ widescreen monsters to 3.5″ smartphones. I’m also trying to improve navigation so that readers can easily find the more timeless posts amidst the many other time-sensitive posts. I still have a lot of work to do by going through my archives and cleaning things up.

Please let me know if anything is broken or just what you think of it. Thanks!

MyMoneyBlog.com Interview with Mint

Money management website Mint.com recently did a brief interview with me, although we did cover a variety of topics. Here’s the link:

Personal Finance Interview with Jonathan Ping on Money Management

Sick Leave

I’ve been getting my butt kicked by a bout of food poisoning, so posting will be light this week. Fever, chills, sweats, and I haven’t been able to keep down any solid food in over 48 hours. Blech.

What Does 200 Calories Cost? The Economics of Obesity

(Update: I thought this popular article would be worth bumping back up due my #BelowTheLine eating challenge. There have been some good comments about the fact that caloric content does not equate to nutrition. Very true, I am actually planning to buy relatively little of the “cheap” junk food items on this list like donuts, white bread, chips, and candy. Instead, I’m buying rice, lentils, beans, eggs, and a few fruits. The economics of obesity should also acknowledge the important factors of convenience and taste. Fast food tastes good and arrives instantly. I have to soak my dry lentils and beans and cook them for over an hour. Planning ahead can save a lot of money, but it’s not clear how to convince more people to do so.)

WiseGeek has an interesting article on What Does 200 Calories Look Like?, where it photographs the portions of several foods that equal 200 calories and sorts them by weight. Here’s broccoli next to peanut butter on the same plate:

200 Calories Of Broccoli and Peanut Butter: WiseGeek.com

I thought it would be neat to extend this idea and see what 200 calories costs. So I extended my usual grocery trip by finding out the price per weight for each of the food items they selected. The results are below, grouped by price per 200 calories. Image credits go to WiseGeek.com. Please go there for the full versions, these are just thumbnails for reference.

Cost of 200 Calories: Less than 50 cents
image credit: wisegeek.com
Canola Oil
$0.07
image credit: wisegeek.com
Wheat flour
$0.07
image credit: wisegeek.com
Brown Sugar
$0.10
image credit: wisegeek.com
Peanut Butter
$0.17
image credit: wisegeek.com
Cornmeal
$0.20
image credit: wisegeek.com
Uncooked Pasta
$0.21
image credit: wisegeek.com
Glazed Donut
$0.23
image credit: wisegeek.com
Butter
$0.24
image credit: wisegeek.com
Salted Pretzels
$0.24
image credit: wisegeek.com
Wheat Dinner Rolls
$0.23
image credit: wisegeek.com
French Sandwich Roll
$0.24
image credit: wisegeek.com
Smarties Candy
$0.24

[Read more…]

Why You Should Make a New Year’s Resolution

If you’re like me, you may wonder if a New Year’s resolution is even worth the bother. By chance, I was listening to an NPR interview today with a Dr. John Norcross, a psychology professor who decided to study this phenomenon. Listen, download the mp3, or read the transcript at NPR.org. Here are the highlights:

According to Norcross, 40-50% of people make New Year’s resolutions each year. How did they do when studied over time?

Dr. NORCROSS: In two of our longitudinal studies, 40 to 46 percent of New Year’s resolvers will be successful at six months. So, the half empty is it’s true, most people fail. But 40 to 46 percent is pretty impressive. […]

You know, I was tired of people saying resolutions never succeed, we shouldn’t even try them. And I said, well, wait a minute, these are life-sustaining behaviors. What’s the alternative? So, the alternative was to track people starting before January 1st with the same behavioral goals, with the same motivation to stop or to take the resolutions but who just weren’t going to do anything then. And that’s – and only four percent of them were successful at six months. So you go from four percent, all the way up to 44, 46 percent by taking a New Year’s resolution seriously and trying to do something about it.

10 times the success rate! So people who made resolutions had a 40% success rate as compared to 4% from those who had the same motivations but didn’t set resolutions. Definitely encouragement for would-be resolvers. More goods news is that the studies found that slips or short lapses in the resolution did not always lead to failure. Many people used the lapses to strengthen their determination.

How to set a good resolution. Norcross recommends setting attainable, realistic, and measurable goals. So lose 10 pounds instead of 50 pounds or “a lot of weight”. Save $100 more from each paycheck vs. saving an extra $15,000 somehow during the year. Grandiose goals set you up for failure, as you need to have inner confidence that the specific goal you set is achievable. This agrees with the popular SMART mnemonic that says that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive.

So, resolutions are good, especially if you do them right. However, you may want to keep number of resolutions to a minimum:

FLATOW: So you do one thing at a time, you know? Don’t say, I’m going to diet and quit smoking at the same time, because you’ll never get them both done.

Dr. NORCROSS: Well, there’s some interesting research on that. And that is, it depends how much time and commitment you have. If the two resolutions are related, then it may make sense to do it together. For example, losing weight and increasing exercise – most people see those things as going together. But if there are two very different resolutions, you may just be overwhelmed with the amount of time and energy that they call for. So, we ask people never more than two. If they’re related, two is great. Otherwise, just do one at a time.

Link Digest: Mixing Work & Passion, Invest in Memories, Stable Value Fund Warning, and More

Here are some more links worthy of sharing:

The Overjustification Effect
A smorgasbord of behavioral psychology that questions the idea that there is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love. This is a very complicated topic but the article makes some good observations.

Memory as a Consumer Durable (Atlantic)
Another twist on the whole “buy experiences, not things” theory. What if you treated a memory as “consumer durable” good much like refrigerators, furniture, or a car? In similar ways, they provide constant satisfaction and/or pleasure, and they last a very long time. In that case, should we acquire them while we’re young so we can enjoy them the rest of our lives?

Stable value 2.0, fewer investor guarantees (Reuters)
If you own a stable value fund in your retirement plan, you should check to see if changes were made to any of its principal guarantees.

The 401(k): Americans ‘just not prepared’ to manage their own retirement funds (WaPo)
401k were designed to be a supplemental account to pensions, but now they are a replacement. If you know what you’re doing, it’s good, and it’s nice because you can take the money with you across jobs. But the total account balances are nowhere near what people need to retire as a whole. Maybe we need something else.

“If the 401(k) is supposed to be the primary retirement vehicle for the average American worker, then it needs to be consistent with the information and financial ability of the average American worker, who is just not prepared to manage funds like that over the course of a lifetime.”

GMO 2012 1st Quarter Letter
The most recent letter from Grantham talks some sense about why most managers can’t afford to have the proper long-term mentality for market-beating returns.

…ignoring the volatile up-and-down market moves and attempting to focus on the slower burning long-term reality is simply too dangerous in career terms. Missing a big move, however unjustified it may be by fundamentals, is to take a very high risk of being fired. Career risk and the resulting herding it creates are likely to always dominate investing.

CarrierCompare: The iPhone app your carrier doesn’t want you to see (CNN)
An iPhone app that takes data (signal strength, response time and speed) from users and analyzes it together to find which carriers have the best service and coverage for any given area. (Update: Apple has since removed it from the App Store.)

Link Digest: Paying For Status, Nutella Class Action, Social Security Planning, Being Your Own Bank, and More

The Perils of Paying for Status
An article in Scientific American magazine about our desire to feel powerful and achieve social status affects our decision-making. If you’re feeling insecure, you’re more likely to overpay for products and/or buy more stuff than you need. Simply knowing this common weakness may help you spend more wisely in the future.

Nutella Class Action Lawsuit
Nutella calls itself healthy, when in fact the first two ingredients are sugar and vegetable oil (fat). Class action lawsuit ensues. Lawyers get rich. Regular folks who bought the stuff can get $20 with a claim, with no proof of purchase required. If you’ve ever bought Nutella spread since 2008, you should check if you’re eligible.

Social Security and Medicare: Proper Planning Pays Off Big
I’m not an expert on this stuff, but this Morningstar article seems to do a pretty good job of summarizing the ways to maximize your Social Security and Medicare benefits and minimizing any penalties.

I Quit My Passion and Took a Boring Job
A guest poster at GetRichSlowly shares his story of quitting a job he loved (teaching high school math) and taking on a job that pays the bills (accountant).

Bestselling book’s financial promises don’t add up
Allan Roth at CBS Moneywatch does a great job debunking a “bestseller” book that is one of many misleading scams that pushes whole life insurance as “infinite banking” or “make your own bank” as a good way to build wealth. It’s a great way to build wealth, but only when you’re the one selling the whole life insurance!

What Does the Prudent Investor Do Now?
WSJ article by author Burton Malkiel about his outlook on stocks and bonds. If you can’t read it directly, try here and click on the first result.

In today’s environment, the minimization of investment fees is more important than ever. A 1% investment management fee may appear to be very low when measured against assets. But when measured against a 7% equity return, that fee represents more than 14% of the return. Against a 2% dividend yield, the fee absorbs one half of the dividend income.

GMO Quarterly Letter Q4 2011 (pdf)
Another letter to investors that I have come to enjoy reading each quarter. Jeremy Grantham gives some good investment advice, and also some market opinions that may or may not be right. I don’t necessarily agree myself, but I like his style. Right now he only likes “high quality” US equities, and he hates going long on bond duration to reach for yield.

Reading List: Low-Risk Investing, Free Accounting Software, Limited Willpower, Flexible Withdrawal Rates

I run across a lot of articles that may not merit an entire blog post but are worthy of sharing. Let me know if you like this format with short summaries or if you’d rather me just tweet links.

Playing It Safe as a Long-Term Strategy
For a while, Professor Zvi Bodie has written books and articles about low-risk investing and encouraging the purchase of Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) and I-bonds. If you bought them when he was first saying that, you’d have TIPS paying 3%+ real yield and doing quite well. But now you’re looking at 0% or negative real yield unless you go decades out to eek out 1%.

He still says that stocks are too risky regardless of time held and should not be bought unless you already have enough assets to cover the bare necessities. You won’t like the alternative options: spend less, save more; plan on retiring later; work a second job. He and Taqqu have a new book called Risk Less and Prosper.

Berkshire Hathaway Letter to Shareholders
Warren Buffett sent out his annual letter to shareholders over the weekend. As usual, the letter contains some of his insights and opinions on issues like the housing market recovery, investing in gold, and the current dangers of bonds. He also lays out his argument for why owning equities (at least BRK) is actually low-risk over a long time horizon.

There has never been a better time to be an individual investor
From the Abnormal Returns blog. I agree that there are better tools out there now at a lower cost, but with the death of pensions there will also be a lot more responsibility and pressure placed on individual investors. If they mess it up, it’s not going to be pretty. That makes it a stressful time to be an individual investor!

Wave Accounting: Free online accounting software for small businesses
The price is right at free, as they intend for it to be ad-supported. Includes free import of transactions from your bank account. I signed up but haven’t taken it for a test run yet. I currently use Intuit Quickbooks and haven’t had to upgrade for 5 years.

Your Mistaken Belief in Financial Willpower
I have come around to support the idea that willpower is more of a finite resource, or at least it has to be built up like a muscle. Don’t use it up when you don’t have to. Carl Richards of the NY Times points out ways that we can conserve our willpower for other things using automation for paying bills and savings.

Should Your Retirement-Portfolio Withdrawals Fluctuate With the Market?
What is the best way to withdraw from your portfolio in retirement in order to make sure it lasts? This Morningstar article looks at the research on ways to implement flexible withdrawal rates. I agree that numbers like 4% withdrawal rates should be a guideline and not a rigid rule.